'Labour keg in the MDC has been lost'

HARARE - Zimbabwe yesterday joined the rest of world in celebrating Workers’ Day but in a muted way.

There is nothing worth writing home about for a Zimbabwean worker whose struggles have not been mitigated by an inclusive government involving a movement that once gave a serious promise of bringing bread to the table.

Instead, Zimbabwe’s May Day celebrations yesterday exposed a widening rift among the workers’ movements who are more fractious than they were five years ago.

The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), largely synonymous with the MDC, the party it helped form in 1999, held its commemorations at Gwanzura Stadium, in the capital.

Also in Harare, a splinter group — the Concerned Affiliates of the ZCTU — had their own at Raylton Sports Cub.

Against this background, Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) and Concerned Affiliates of the ZCTU secretary general, Raymond Majongwe,  painted a sorry state of the workers’ struggle for justice.

And he blamed some senior members of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s party for working towards the demise of a vibrant workers’ movement.

“The labour keg in the MDC has been lost. What basically remains is that scenario where people then turn back and say we belong to the labour movement. I want to believe they are no longer,” Majongwe told the Daily News.

“Save for Tsvangirai and a few others who are there; how many of those people in the MDC-T are from labour? I bemoan the death of Isaac Matongo because I want to believe these were the pillars on which the labour position in the MDC-T could have been anchored.

“What you have is the prime minister who is basically exposed, surrounded by so many other people who are fighting their own battles. The MDC-T is now like a salad ball with everything. It’s never going to be something that shares anything,” said the burly former teacher.

Tsvangirai, a popular and firebrand trade unionist during his time at the ZCTU, used his influence to nudge academics and lawyers to form a labour-backed party in 1999 — the original MDC.

Among those who represented labour were Tsvangirai himself, Lucia Matibenga, Matongo and Tapiwa Mashakada.
These were quite visibly from an impressive list of trade unionists who included Gift Chimanikire, Godfrey Kanyenze and James Makore.

Critics of the Tsvangirai-led MDC have joined a growing list of sceptics who claim the party has abandoned the workers and binned some of its founding principles.

“At the end of the day if you look at what is happening on the ground, the MDC-T suffers from a notion that it wants to please too many people. You want to please the left, you want to please the centre and you want to please the right,” Majongwe said.

“At the end of the day I would want to believe that it was about moving with workers, moving with the business and it was from there that the MDC-T’s position would have really prevailed.  If you are going to look at it today, why is it that the worker movement is in so much chaos?

“One would have assumed the MDC-T, whether one wants to looks at it from the left or from the right, would have nicodemously brought people to say the splitting of the worker movement is in itself a serious undoing for their movement”.

The ZCTU is split with the two groups, one led by George Nkiwane and the Concerned Affiliates of the ZCTU, headed by once Tsvangirai’s close ally — Lovemore Matombo.

“But it appears there are people in the MDC-T who deliberately want the labour movement to split because some of us now want to believe that the more the labour movement is weakened, the more Tsvangirai might never become president of this country,” said Majongwe.

“So, at the end of the day there are people within the labour movement, some of them who are quite high ranking in the party, who basically are fuelling the split. One would want to say a united ZCTU would assure Tsvangirai this victory. But it appears for one reason or another somebody is enjoying this split”.

Majongwe said the plight of a Zimbabwean worker has been worsened by the inclusive government which he accused of abdicating its role of improving the welfare of the people.

“One must look at the way civil servants have been treated by the government. There has been total neglect, lack of respect and lack of political will to solve the problem.

“What we have just seen is some pub and pep talk about them saying we want to uplift the standards of living for civil servants but it has not happened. If you are going to consider the wealth that this country is generating vis-a-vis the way the people of this country are living, civil servants, in particular, you are going to be alarmed.

“First and foremost it is a very legitimate argument that in this particular part of region, Zimbabwean teachers are the lowest paid because the government is too busy fighting for political office.

“On one hand you see a Zanu PF group fighting to control resources for their own selfish ends. On the other hand you look at an MDC group that does not know what it is supposed to be doing in government”.
The PTUZ chief blamed government for failing to peg a reasonable minimum wage consistent with prevailing economic environment.

“What does the minister of Labour, Paurina Mpariwa, do?  She pretends as if she does not have the power to say this is supposed to be the minimum wage.  The Labour Act gives her that right to stand up and say this is the minimum. And she doesn’t do it.

“At the end of the day many workers now start questioning why the MDC arm in government does not see that workers are suffering? Or people are deliberately saying let them suffer so that they then vote for us in the future.

“You are basically left wondering because the other arm in Zanu PF seems to think that if the welfare of workers in government or everywhere is uplifted, people will attribute that to MDC. So Zanu PF would want chaos, confusion and poverty to take root.

“Zanu PF has always been a party of poverty. They believe that when people are poor they bring handouts and people remain loyal citizens to them and their policies”.

Majongwe was part of the people who voted “No” in the referendum and defended his actions; insisting the new constitution does not “recognise” the workers.

“It must be made very clear without any reservations that the workers in this constitution have not been respected. We cannot be told that we have to fight for a fair and reasonable wage in this country where everybody knows there are certain international dictates where we are talking about salaries in view of a living wage, poverty datum line-linked wages, a living pension,” Majongwe said.

“All these things are not included in this constitution. So for workers there is  absolutely nothing.
Coming to civil servants in particular; we had made it very clear that we want a harmonised labour law. These are things that Tsvangirai was talking about when he was secretary-general of the ZCTU. What has changed now?

“Why do we still continue with the Private Labour Act and the Public Service Act? What we are going to see is we are going to be two sets of workers in this country to be used for the selfish ends of the government of the day”.

He had hoped the security agents were going to be allowed to have their own unions that would take part in collective bargaining exercises.

In South Africa, security agents drawn from the military, police and prisons are unionised.

“Why is it in Zimbabwe the soldiers, the police, the prisons are being left out of collective bargaining. That clearly means these guys want to use them for their own political selfish ends.

“They are there to be used as political instruments because once you keep them out of processes of collective bargaining they are going to be told that you are going to be fed from the table of government and every other worker is your enemy.

“These soldiers, these police officers, these prison officers must be unionised. Technically, I want to believe the MDC-T is failing to read the situation on the ground,” said Majongwe.

“When we were saying ‘No’ to that constitution we were assisting the MDC-T, we were trying to expose Zanu PF double standards.

“I want to repeat what I said. When you see a fisherman and a crocodile going to fish together, there is a problem. Either there is no water in the river or the crocodile seriously needs assistance. Or the fisherman is very naive; once the rain comes, the fisherman will be soup.

 “I am really surprised that the people in MDC-T are so naive to think Mugabe will change because he shared the stage with them. Elections will show this country what Zanu PF is,” said Majongwe.

“Zanu PF went out on open violence in 2008. They did not know there were diamonds. They did not know that there was so much wealth in the bellies of this land. Now that they know, do you think they will allow MDC to go and win an election?”

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